Russia drew ire and fury from Israel after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed on Sunday that Hitler had "Jewish origins" while trying to justify the bloody assault on Ukraine.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett condemned the remarks as "unforgivable and outrageous," and Israel's Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador to explain the comments, marking a deterioration in relations at a time when Israel has sought to stake out a neutral position on Ukraine.
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“So when they say, ‘How can Nazification exist if we’re Jewish?’ In my opinion, Hitler also had Jewish origins, so it doesn’t mean absolutely anything,” Lavrov said in an interview with an Italian television channel on Sunday, per the Associated Press. “For some time, we have heard from the Jewish people that the biggest antisemites were Jewish.”
Lavrov's remarks were aimed at explaining Russia's assertion that it is trying to "denazify" Ukraine despite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky being Jewish. Russia has frequently pointed to the Azov Battalion, a special operations unit in Ukraine that is accused of having members with ties to neo-Nazi ideology.
“Using the Holocaust of the Jewish people as a means to score political points must be stopped immediately,” Bennett responded, the outlet reported. “His remarks are not the truth, and their content is unacceptable.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was even more pointed with his reply and demanded an apology from Russia.
"Foreign Minister Lavrov’s remarks are both an unforgivable and outrageous statement as well as a terrible historical error," he replied. "Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust. The lowest level of racism against Jews is to accuse Jews themselves of antisemitism."
Foreign Minister Lavrov’s remarks are both an unforgivable and outrageous statement as well as a terrible historical error. Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust. The lowest level of racism against Jews is to accuse Jews themselves of antisemitism.— יאיר לפיד - Yair Lapid🟠 (@yairlapid) May 2, 2022
Other countries joined Israel in denouncing Lavrov’s comments. A spokesperson for the German government dismissed the claims as "absurd," Reuters reported. Ukrainian officials also chimed in. Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine's minister of foreign affairs, claimed the remarks were emblematic of the "deeply-rooted antisemitism of the Russian elites."
FM Lavrov could not help hiding the deeply-rooted antisemitism of the Russian elites. His heinous remarks are offensive to President @ZelenskyyUa, Ukraine, Israel, and the Jewish people. More broadly, they demonstrate that today’s Russia is full of hatred towards other nations.— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) May 2, 2022
Both Russia and Ukraine have maintained friendly relations with Israel, even as the war rages on in Ukraine. Israel has slow-walked imposing its own sanctions on Russia over the offensive but has collaborated with Western nations to help enforce international sanctions.
Additionally, Israel has reportedly been reluctant to provide Ukraine with military assistance such as the Iron Dome technology, which is used to defend against missile attacks. In March, Zelensky chided Israel for not doing more to punish Russia for its offensive.
“Why has Israel refrained from sanctions on Russia?" Zelensky said. "Israel needs to give answers to these questions and, after that, live with them."
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Israel was formed as a nation in the wake of the Holocaust, which killed over 6 million Jews. The country has given Ukraine humanitarian aid and called for peace in the region. Bennett has also sought to position Israel as a mediator between the two warring nations.